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Fast Track

Cable's E-Solution To Ad Buys Unveiled

Anew collaboration between A&E Television Networks (AETN) and media-buying agency Universal McCann could set the stage for big improvements in the way cable networks and agencies do business.

According to the Cabletelevision Advertising Bureau (CAB), a new “e-business” initiative for managing cable-network advertising activity is ready for primetime. CAB has led the drive to bridge communication between agencies and cable networks through an electronic system.

Using a platform developed by Donovan Data Systems, the cable network and Universal McCann were able to communicate live changes to a media buy. The effort marks the first real-world result of a behind-the-scenes effort to ease the job of keeping up with advertising order changes.

“We've been working for years to be able to send changes electronically. And this is the first time that it has been done,” says Danielle DeLauro, VP of sales and marketing for the CAB.

The e-business initiative follows last week's announcement that CAB won't participate in further trials of a cable advertising “exchange system” developed by Internet-commerce titan eBay. In part, it's thought that cable networks didn't want to relinquish some control of the ad-selling process.

In February, the Television Bureau of Advertising, which represents broadcasters, said it is building ePort, a similar Web-based aid to ad selling. TVB plans to introduce it in the fourth quarter.

Many changes to cable-network advertising schedules, rates and buys are still made the old-fashioned way: by fax or e-mail. That produces lots of duplicated efforts—and frequent paperwork discrepancies—because people on both the network and the ad-agency sides are entering the same data. “There's double-entry, so it adds more time that could be spent doing other things,” says DeLauro. Discrepancies and time-sapping corrections, she says, should be virtually eliminated as agencies and cable networks make changes electronically.

The new system integrates agencies and cable networks through a secure electronic pipeline that makes use of an enhanced version of Donovan's widely deployed Steward software. According to DeLauro, CAB and cable networks also are working with the American Association of Advertising Agencies to make the same type of electronic integration possible universally, over other agency-software platforms. A broad group of national cable networks are joining AETN in deploying the new e-business platform, along with major media-buying groups, including MPG, MindShare, Initiative, Maxus, Carat and Mediaedge:cia.

'Lost' Faces Scheduling Issues

After taking a beating this season, ABC's Lost experienced a slight up tick in the ratings last week. The 0.03 jump from the previous week was good enough to give network executives hope that the creative improvement that they have seen in their prized show lately will start translating into improved ratings heading into the May sweeps.

Throughout the season, original episodes of Lost have attracted lower ratings than last year. The serialized saga had been on a steady, weekly decline since coming back from a three-month hiatus that alienated many loyal viewers.

Following its return to 10 p.m. ET Wednesdays—an hour later than in the fall—ABC watched the ratings plummet from a 6.4 rating/15 share among adults 18-49 for the spring debut to a 4.9/13 by the ninth episode on April 4. So last week's 5.2/14 turned out to be the best Lost news that network executives have seen in months.

But the upward trend will need to continue as they prepare to set the fall schedule next month.

To avoid the scheduling fiasco of the past few seasons, ABC Entertainment President Steve McPherson has indicated, Lost will run straight through next season with original episodes. A fall start would make it collide with the holidays, so odds-makers are betting that it will follow the same path of Fox's 24, by airing January-May.

ABC says Lost is the most-recorded show on DVRs, but that's a measurement count advertisers won't consider. If the network wants to keep the franchise away from Fox's American Idol and make affiliates happy by offering a decent lead-in to their late newscasts, it will need to continue airing it at 10.

That is why the network has made strengthening the 8-10 p.m. Wednesday block leading into Lost a top priority this development season. The drama has not been helped much by the assortment of weak comedies that have been playing there.

ABC scheduling chief Jeff Bader declined to comment on possible scheduling scenarios. But he will undoubtedly have his work cut out for him in the weeks ahead.—Jim Benson

Martin Floats Dual-Carriage Proposal

FCC Chairman Kevin Martin is suggesting requiring cable systems to deliver both a digital and an analog version of a TV station's signal after the February 2009 transition to digital, according to FCC sources.

Currently, cable is required to carry only the digital signal.

The chairman is focused on a notice of proposed rule-making on what requirements should be put on cable in terms of delivering a viewable TV-station signal to its customers.

The notice asks whether the FCC should require dual analog and DTV cable carriage to make sure TV-station signals get to cable customers who still have analog equipment or, alternatively, require digital carriage only but make cable operators responsible for ensuring that their analog customers without cable boxes get the converters necessary to view the digital signal.—John Eggerton

Bravo Adds Third Night of Originals

Beginning this summer, Bravo will start programming originals on Thursday nights in addition to Tuesdays and Wednesdays. In announcing the new third night at its upfront show for the press last week, Bravo executives touted their audience's high concentration of wealthy viewers and unveiled plans for new series about luxury travel, high-class hotels and millionaire singles, as well as an awards show for the arts.

Although the network doesn't come close to cracking the top 10 cable channels in the ratings—it tied for No. 22 in the 18-49 demographic during first quarter primetime, according to Nielsen—it has posted consistent year-to-year gains (up 19% to 336,000 viewers 18-49 in primetime in the first quarter). Its ad-sales team is focused on the 18-49 demographic, rather than 25-54; executives announced the shift at the upfront.

New greenlighted shows include First Class All the Way, a docudrama about a woman who runs a luxury travel concierge business (from Stone and Co.); Welcome to the Parker (Snackaholic Productions), a show, previously announced as being in development, about the behind-the-scenes culture at the luxe Parker Palm Springs hotel; and Millionaire Matchmaker (Intuitive Entertainment, Bayonne Entertainment), a docudrama about a dating service for single sugar daddies.

The network also picked up a second season of Flipping Out (Authentic Entertainment), a docudrama about a hot-headed professional real estate-flipper, as well as previously announced new seasons of Top Chef (summer 2007), Project Runway (fourth quarter), Kathy Griffin: My Life on the D List (June 5 at 10 p.m. ET), Inside the Actors Studio and Million Dollar Listing.—Anne Becker